Happy birthday, Judith Kerr!

One of my favourite authors celebrated a big birthday this year!
Judith Kerr, author and illustrator of such children’s classics as the Mog series and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (and its successive instalments) turned 95 and a glamorous cocktail party was thrown in her honour at The Savoy in London. Children’s writers such as David Walliams, Holly Smale and Rob Biddulph, as well as other publishing stars, joined in to wish the lovely lady legend a happy birthday. As ever, Ms Kerr turned up in a chic gown and looked nothing like a nonagenarian!

I admire so many things about Ms Kerr. Her gratefulness for her life despite the nomadic and stressful experience of her childhood, fleeing the Nazis. The fact that she still gets up and goes to work nowadays instead of retiring. Her funny and sunny personality. She’s an inspiration to me and I share this with anyone who listens to my storytimes at schools!

This week, therefore, I decided to share a few of her books with the children. Bizarrely, I found two that I hadn’t read before and, as usual, they didn’t fail to delight and entertain. Kerr has such a gift for gentle humour – there was no class that didn’t chuckle at the antics of the animals in her books, who often seem more true-to-life than the humans.


Mog in the Dark

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I’ve read about Mog being out in the dark before – in the first in her series, she sits in the dark and thinks dark thoughts after the Thomas family get fed up with her and she flees to her garden. In this book, she’s happily sitting outside, thinking about her family and basket inside, when the dark thoughts return and become terrifying. Every noise could be not just a mouse or a bird but a massive mouse and a gigantic bird with teeth. She climbs a tree to reach safety, hoping that what might be a DOG won’t be able to follow her … and then sleepiness replaces fear and she snoozes for a while. But dreams turn into nightmares of huge proportions – as they often can do – and she’s relieved to wake
up, on the ground but then in the children’s arms as they give her her supper.

This was a fantastic book to read aloud. There is much repetition – linguistically to help reinforce learning of words but it also adds to the comic effect as Mog’s fears grow larger with each mention. The big birds with big teeth had the children giggling but I must admit I would be terrified if one like that came across my path! This would also be a good read to show children how nightmares, while scary, can also be humorous if we think about how our minds blow things out of proportion.


The Other Goose

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Katerina is a popular goose. Everyone says hello to her and Mr Buswell, the bank manager, thinks she’s rather funny because she likes to stand and stare at his shiny car door. The joke is on him, though – he thinks she’s being ‘silly’ but his daughter Millie knows it’s because Katerina can see another goose and wants to make a friend because she is the only goose in the pond and is lonely.

The story takes a turn when, one snowy night, Katerina spies a man carrying a bag that looks like it contains a goose. She thinks it’s the goose from the car, and becomes alarmed at the thought that the man might be kidnapping her friend (a teacher and I were alarmed it was Christmas dinner). Katerina chases the man, ‘wakwakwak’ing all the way to the town square where the mayor is turning on the lights, and everyone discovers that the man’s bag is full of cash from the bank. Katerina is rewarded with the friend she always wanted.

The frequent ‘wakwakwak’ refrains gave the children the opportunity to join in with the story and they were totally immersed in Katerina’s determination not only to find a friend but to help them if they were in trouble. They loved Katerina’s funny ways and we all enjoyed how The Other Goose really did come from the side of the car in the end!


How Mrs Monkey Missed the Ark

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I think this has to be one of the loveliest retellings of the story of Noah’s Ark. Instead of focusing on punishment, Judith Kerr, as usual, focuses on the animals and their reaction to the arrangements with the ark. Mrs Monkey, for example, wants to ensure that she has a nice selection of fruit to eat on their journey, and ambles off, promising to be back in time for departure. However, time-management is not her strong point and she becomes distracted, looking for the best quality goods.

The waters rise and God, who is watching this in concern, sends a variety of species to help get her back to the ark. In effect, Mrs Monkey survives the flood without the ark, but only with divine intervention! Mr Monkey seems remarkably relaxed about his wife’s disappearance and keeps reassuring everyone that she will be back sooner or later. It does turn out to be later, and unfortunately most of the fruit has spoiled. However, there is one massive seed that they all plant to see what happens. It turns out that the seed is of a hybrid tree that is capable of growing all sorts of fruit and Mrs Monkey has been a rather clever, if tardy, primate.

Despite the dangers of floods, there is never any real fear or peril in this book. Instead, the reader can rest assured that God is trying to sort everything out, even if naughty Mrs Monkey thwarts his attempts, unwittingly. There’s no moral to this story, either; I guess if there was one it should be something like do as you’re told or else bad things happen … but they don’t. Maybe Kerr is showing us all that God is kind to all his creatures, not vengeful. Or maybe she’s just enjoying telling her humorous tale.


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